How to Become a More Effective Learner

3 Ways to Become a More Effective Learner

How to Become a More Effective Learner

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We may graduate from school, but we never stop learning. New jobs, new roles, new relationships: all require the acquisition of new knowledge. To stop learning is to stop improving.


Despite its importance, so many of us develop bad habits and faulty techniques that undermine our ability learn effectively, says Nate Kornell, an associate professor of cognitive psychology at Williams College who studies learning strategies.

Below, Kornell outlines three fundamental principles to learn by. 

1. Embrace discomfort

One of the most common – and detrimental – mistakes Kornell often sees is our collective tendency to equate performance with how much we are learning.

In reality, these two metrics are often in direct opposition. Kornell offers the following example: say you're at the gym, attempting to work out with 10-pound weights.

Even a few reps are exhausting, and so eventually you swap them for 5-pound weights. Suddenly, the workout is easier. You can do more reps. You feel instantly stronger.

The problem, of course, is that while the lighter weights make you feel better about your performance, the heavier ones were providing a better workout.

Related: Can You Learn in Your Sleep?

«The same thing happens with learning – when it's easy, you feel you are learning more,» says Kornell. In reality, «you actually learn more when what you are struggling.»

According to Kornell, effective learning feels difficult. It's this ability to embrace continuous discomfort that separates ultra-high-achievers from everyone else. For most people, once they're pretty good at something – be it public speaking, writing or Excel – they become complacent and comfortable, unwilling to continue to challenge themselves.

«You reach a plateau where you don’t experiment and you don't practice new techniques because you’re satisfied,» he says. «The people who achieve the most in life are the ones that aren't satisfied with 8 10; the people who don't stop until they are a 10 10.

» That requires risk taking, uncertainty, repetition, the pursuit of criticism and, yes, discomfort.

Learning is many things – challenging, eye-opening, exhilarating, motivating and tiresome. It should never be a cakewalk. «If you are having too easy a time, you’re doing it wrong,» he says.

2. Stop cramming

A favorite study-technique of college students everywhere, cramming – or the last-ditch effort to memorize as much information in a condensed time frame– is effective «if you want to remember something in the very short term,» says Kornell. Cram before a test, and you'll ly remember much of the information when you sit down to write the exam. A year, week or even day later, however? Not so much.

Related: Tell Us: Should Schools Still Use Pencils and Paper?

To acquire new knowledge with a long expiration date, it's crucial that you space out learning events. Interestingly, it's the act of forgetting that makes multiple, spaced out study sessions more effective at forming long-term memories than a single marathon session.

Kornell, who has researched this topic extensively, believes that the act of forgetting information and then re-learning it, ideally multiple times, is what cements memories in the brain.

The process of forgetting, and then repeatedly filling in those memory gaps, makes them stick.

«You can’t add to your knowledge unless you give yourself a chance to forget,» which is why cramming produces such fleeting results.

3. Make connections

The more, the better. If you want to remember the information in a passage you are reading, root the text to as many additional contexts as possible. Pause frequently and think about how what you're reading now relates to what you read earlier. But don’t stop there.

If you really want the material to stick, make personal connections as well: relate the text to events that have happened in your own life, or the life of a friend or acquaintance.

The more individual threads you can tie from the material in the book to other, independent realms of pre-existing knowledge, the more ly it is to stick around.

Admittedly, pausing every few sentences to contextualize material can be an incredibly time-consuming and mentally exhausting task. Which just ties back to Kornell's earlier point: effective learning is difficult. Because of the time commitment, he says, «it's not a popular technique, but it really does work.»

Related: Mike Rowe: Curiosity Is Key to Success


How To Become An Effective Learner

How to Become a More Effective Learner

Learning is different from studying, and if you are reading this, you have gone through tons of learning. It can be learning from relationships, jobs, books and so much more.

Learning is an on-going process and never stops, and you would probably keep learning the rest of your life.

Even though we learn from our experiences, it becomes extremely tough to handle it in many situations. The fact that people use wrong tools and techniques for teaching makes them a bad learner.

Learning can be improved with few techniques, and we will go through few of them in this article.

Recently, I published How To Study Effectively: 7 Tips To Master Learning. Check it out to know how to study well. But, it is not about learning, so I went with the idea of publishing the post.

Without much ado, let’s get started with the techniques that make you a better learner. With the techniques, you can easily recall most of the learned material, use them in your work and be confident of your skills. Having a good learning speed and skill can easily help you gain more self-confidence and enable you to make the most your career, college or school.

Imitate the Best Learners

Do you have someone close to you who is a great learner? Speak to them and ask them what techniques they use. This technique is the number one on my list as it offers a different perspective on how different people use different learning techniques to get the best out the knowledge available to them.

In short, you need to know all the different methods and use the ones that best suits you.

Now, let’s list the best techniques to be an effective learner.

Never Multitask

The first step to becoming an effective learner is to stop doing multitasking. Multitasking is related to poor brain functioning and those who keep multitasking lose a lot of brain power.

There are many studies that show how multitasking slows down task completion and has no real benefit in the real world.

Our brains are also wired to do multitasking as it feels great to juggle between work.

So, if you want to become an effective learner, keep multitasking away, schedule the task and only start a work if the previous one is finished.

Learning can be tough

Embracing discomfort is one of the crucial prerequisites for learning effectively.

If you want learning to be simple, fun and at the same time not challenging, you are making a mistake. During learning, we expand our world view and break our core notions about the world.

Learning, similar to body building, takes effort and perseverance. There are no shortcuts, and you should learn by doing and going through the hard times.

Any concept, when first presented can feel a little overwhelming. Just get a grasp of the concept and move on. Come back to it later to discover on how much you missed and got the fog cleared from the front of your eyes.

Improve Memory

Memory is one of the crucial skill that we need to do almost everything we do. It can be picking up the keys to the cars, finding a file on the computer and so on.

Memory also helps in the learning process. A person with a good memory will find it easy to learn hard concepts compared to the one with not so good memory. Of course, memory is not the only thing that is required to learn.

Other varying skills determine the learning capabilities of the individual including IQ.

Learning single concepts different ways

Divergent thinking(multiple ways of accomplishing a single task) is one of the well-known skill in grownups. It is not exactly as creativity, but it is the fuel of creativity. Surprisingly, divergent thinking is common among kids up to age 8.

As a child is schooled, he keeps losing his ability to think creatively and is ready to fit in the system.

Check the below video that explains how our education system needs to evolve.

Group Study And Teaching Others

Studying together can improve your learning significantly. Of course, group studying is not for everyone, and if you feel that group study is not for you, then you might want to study alone.

The biggest advantage of group studying is the ability to teach other what you have learned. This can enhance your understanding and also makes your brain process the information one more time, enabling it to go into the long term memory.

If you don’t find the motivation to do group study, you can always create videos or podcasts and share them with your friends. This can help you reach out to other students and also help them learn.

Make Connections

Creating a hive of your knowledge should be your number one priority. Our memory works by linking, and if you can link two uncommon concepts, you can become an a great learner with the ability to solve problems at ease.

Try to relate seamlessly hard topics from different subjects and see how they create a bridge in your brain forever. This will also enhance your old knowledge and also help you learn new stuff seamlessly.

Study Regularly and Stop Cramming

You might have seen fellow students claiming how they cleared examination by studying just a week ago. They are super excited about their abilities, and you might be thinking that it is just not worth to study regularly.

Well, wrong! Cramming do have its benefits and yes it can help you clear the examination. But, you will lose the information or knowledge a few weeks later after the exams finished.

So, is there any benefit? There is no benefit, other than getting a pass certificate for your course.

That’s why it is always a good idea to study regularly and learn the concepts, rather than cram the information so that you can clear the examination.

The benefits of real learning are great, and you can reap them all your remaining life.


Writing is essential for learning. This might also not be for everyone. If you don’t feel writing, there is no need to feel bad about your learning capability.

For me, learning is best done when accustomed to writing. I write as much as possible. It makes my knowledge much better and enables me to concentrate as well.

Over To You

If you feel overwhelmed by all the information that is listed above, don’t worry. Take time and revisit the page when needed. We will keep it updated with new techniques that help learners. Also, share the article with your friends and other keen learners.


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